by Rainee Denham
As a little kid, I remember drawing and making letters with my left hand. In 1st grade I remember I loved school and I was a precocious little hand-raiser in class. I felt a relaxed confidence and excitement to learn every day. My report card reflected this, and on my last day of 1st grade, I was told I would ‘skip’ to 3rd grade. I felt proud. But here’s what happened.
I moved to a new school-one of those underfunded CPS schools. On my first day or so, I was made fun of for being a lefty by the other kids. When the teacher noticed, she told me privately to just use my right hand, so no one would bother me. I remember her kindness and the message of “it’s easier to be like the other kids.” In my child’s mind I reasoned, “hmmm, I don’t know these kids, I don’t like the way some of them behave, so I’ll wait and see if I want to be like them”. It didn’t matter what I thought, I was told to be right-handed.
The teacher did not consider that I had skipped 2nd grade, which is the grade you hone your writing and reading skills.
In 2nd grade, you begin to write in full sentences and use different types of sentence structure. Your reading is not just by rote, you start to interpret using context, and understanding unfamiliar words. So, by skipping 2nd grade, and then changing my handedness, my whole reality was turned upside down. My handwriting was labored as I was learning basic letter formation while the other kids were already doing cursive. I was anxiety ridden-it felt impossible to catch up. I was now labeled one of the ‘slow’ kids in class. I was put into ‘remedial reading’ after school. I was called stupid. And then adding to my stress, I had a condition that wasn’t talked about then, dyslexia. To say I hated school would have been understandable, but not completely true. I loved to learn. I just had to fight the obstacles school put in front of me to learn.
But there existed a huge bias against being left handed at the time. Frankly, this still exists and is still a topic for Neuroscience experts.
Basically, there are two different hemispheres of the brain. Generally, it’s thought that the left hemisphere controls language, logic, analytical thinking and the muscles on the right side of your body. The right brain hemisphere controls your creative thoughts, intuition and artistic expression, and the muscles on your left side. The reason this is important, is by changing my handedness my brain wiring was freaking out, kind of like short circuiting. I was not aware of left or right brain neuroscience when I was a little kid. But I did know that I felt overwhelmed and stigmatized for years. But not one person in authority considered my feelings, or input. I was degraded and humiliated in the classroom.
Travel ahead now to adulthood, the time for reconciling the torture of school-I’m grateful this experience happened to me. I feel it strengthened me. Adversity is like that; it makes you face fear and in doing so, you get to test your mettle. Fight or flight. We all face adversity. It is consistent, chronic, and terminally reoccurring in life. It comes through all kinds of biases-racism, sexism, genderism, elitism-the limitless isms directed against you when you’re different.
We each have had unfair, difficult obstacles thrust at us in life. When they happen, we can get over the shock, rise to the challenge and ultimately grow. Or we can keep rehashing the inequity of it all, blaming others for holding us back, and the world for our problems. They both take a lot of energy.
But we want the world to be what we want it to be, not what it is. And that is the reason we suffer. My common sense told me this was about school needing me to conform for their ease and comfort more than to develop me. I know that’s true, but I sure as hell was not going to let them defeat me.
Was this my biggest adversity in my life? Hell, no. Was this life threatening? Of course not. It was just a long, slow battle of emotional abuse in a place where I should have felt seen, heard and protected. I learned how to be right handed, but I never learned how to trust authority figures.
I still do many things better with my left hand/arm, so I guess left isn’t a four-letter word after all.